Choosing a healthy diet

Diet is a subjective matter and you really need to understand that each body is different so the needs varies. Even for the same person, the nutritional requirements also changes as our body is constantly changing through age, activity level that we engage in, special stages in life such as pregnancy, puberty and old age. 

What I am sharing here are some general and broad principles and guidelines that I use to help me plan and adjust my diet. I do have a sensitive GUT and have suffered from a history of gastric woes and bloatedness so I tried out various methods which helped me ... more on it as a separate topic as digestion is not only affected by the food we consume (as you are aware now). For the guide, you would need to trial and error and always honour your body's response to adjust your diet plan accordingly. 

1) Eating in moderation. This means not overeating in quantity and the types of food in one sitting. 

On quantity, I have a weak digestion so would not have too much food in one sitting. Therefore, the guide here is to stop before the feeling of fullness sets in. Usually, when I stop and wait a while, the feeling of satiety comes a little later. Another way is by standing up. If I feel full when I stand up, it usually means I have already over ate. If I stop only when I feel full, I would have over ate. See point 3 on how not to overeat.

There are certain types of food (even when they have been touted as healthy and wholesome food) that I cannot have too much in one sitting. Examples include fruits, nuts, potatoes, whole grains, glutinous rice, mushrooms, broccoli, cod fish, salmon, garlic, and onion. Fruits are considered cooling and my digestion needs warmth so having too much causes indigestion and gas to form due to undigested or semi-digested sugars. Mushrooms, broccoli, and onion causes gas during the breakdown in the digestive tract so having too much causes bloating and gas which can be quite painful. Unsoaked nuts, potatoes and whole grains are not easily digestible so I suggest to take them separately (if possible) and in moderation as well. 
Our digestive system digest different food types, e.g. proteins (plant or animal), carbohydrates (simple or complex), fats, fibre, etc at different rates and so combining too many different sub-types within a meal would tax the digestive system. 

Too much food consumption would cause indigestion. The undigested food will tax our systems as they go through our GUT. If they accumulate in our body for days, weeks or even months, they become toxins that get recycled into our blood and circulation. That would cause our organs, e.g. liver and heart to work harder. If you have a overly high salt diet, that would overwork the kidneys. 

2) Gaps between meals. To allow rest and more complete digestion, some people adopt intermitten fasting which may include having an earlier dinner and not eating until breakfast or lunch. This gives the digestive system more time to complete digesting the food consumed during the day, and even digest those undigested accumulated waste within. Another benefit of having earlier dinner is that the digestion will be completed by bedtime and would not interfere with your sleep. As for main meals, the recommended gap is atl east 4 hours.

I find intermitten fasting refreshing to the body. Whether to fast for 12, 14 or even 20 hours would depend on the individual. Some days that I don't feel hungry, I can fast for 20 hours. Other days, it can be just 12 hours. The cue for me is my hunger. Another benefit for intermitten fasting for me is that I can consume more water without worrying that it affects my digestion. Intermitten fasting works wonder for me when I am feeling unwell or my digestion just feels sluggish. It is like a reset button to clear out the system naturally so that subsequent food consumed can be broken down and absorbed properly. 
3) Chewing food thoroughly. It means to chew and mix your food thoroughly with your saliva until it turns liquid. That would help to digest the food more completely in two ways, 1) our saliva contains enzymes that digests food directly so technically this is the start of the digestive tract, and 2) as digestion occurs in the mouth, signals are being transmitted to prompt the gastric (stomach and small intestines) the type of food that is being sent down. 

As the tongue is rich in taste buds, keeping the food in the mouth longer means I get to enjoy the taste longer and more. Eating slowly also allow more time for the sensation of fullness to surface. It is like speeding at 120 km/h versus driving slowing at 60 km/h. You are more likely to miss a road sign with the former speed. Hence, eating slowly and mindfully helps me feel satiated without overeating. 

Click here on mindful eating. 

4) Eat your food in good mood. When we are in distress or upset or angry, our systems are flooded with stress hormones such as cortisol. The brain will in turn signal the body to shut down non-vital functions such as digestion, eat and rest. Therefore, the digestive system works best when we are calm (parasympathetic mode) and happy.  

One effective way to turn your energies around if you are feeling down or upset is to give gratitude and blessings to the food. When you look for something to be grateful for, it change your outlook and attitude towards life immediately. Sending loving energies and gratitude to the food not only lifts our mood but also helps to assimilate the energies that we are putting into our body. If you are preparing your own meals, you can bless the food during the preparation. Mindful eating with appreciation to the food helps my digestive woes. 

5) Eat only when you are hungry. When we eat under a social setting, we are more likely to overeat before realising it.  Now, with physical distancing due to COVID-19, we can practice more mindful eating here. Mindful eating is not only during the consumption of the food. This includes honouring our hunger and not eating out of boredom or stress or as social obligation. That doesn't mean you cannot enjoy a good catch up over a meal with your buddies and family. Food has always been a social part for many cultures and I love it even more whenever there is homemade food. 🤩

How do you know if you are really hungry (intuitive) or a habitual craving?

Craving: "the desire for the a food tends to feel more urgent; our body may feel mildly panicky; sometimes there is a secretive aspect to the desire and we will consume the food where no one else can see us (we feel ashamed); or we may hang out with others who share our same habit to justify ourselves; extreme contractive or expansive foods are the most addictive; it is a desire for the same substance over and over; we may want more, with an insatiable desire."

Intuitive: "the desire is deep, but not urgent; our body feels calm and relaxed; our desires change, as they are responses to the changing environment; once we have taken the food, we are satisfied and the desire is gone."

Quoted from Chapter 7 of "Comsic Nutrition- The Taoist Approach to Health and Longevity" by Mantak Chia and William U. Wei. 

Overeating or not eating well due to stress is another huge topic. I learn to ride the urge to stress eat and binge eat with mindful practice by surfing the urge without actually eating. There are more sensory nerves in our mouth so it is not uncommon for people to turn to comfort eating to stimulate these nerves. There are other ways to destress than eating. See under stress relief. Will discuss this separately. 

6) Get nutrients rich food as much as possible. Some food in its natural state contains more nutrients while others require some light cooking to bring out certain vitamins and properties. Certain food requires thorough cooking for people with weaker digestion like myself. Fruit is something I enjoy in its natural state as well as cooked forms. Nuts and seeds are also full of nutrients. However, they are not readily digested so soaking them, chewing thoroughly and eating in moderation can help. Some vegetables can also be enjoyed raw, such as carrots, beetroots and cucumber. When you have more wholesome and delicious food, it is likely to reduce cravings for highly processed, high salt or very sugary food or snacks.  

Stock up some healthy snacks if you need to refuel between meals, e.g. apple, or some nuts and seeds, or salads. 
If you are starting out a new exercise regime or working out more often than usual, do replenish the ions and electrolytes through your diet so that your muscles can recover with minimal injury. 

Be sure to include not just the vitamins but also some trace minerals and micro-nutrients needed by the body in small amounts. One way is to have a variety of food, e.g. seafood or sea vegetables are rich in iodine which helps to the thyroid to function properly so that your body metabolism is balanced. Nuts are rich in healthy oils and anti-inflammatory nutrients; different fruits contain anti-oxidants, vitamins, ions and fibre. Pumpkin and carrots contains vitamin A which helps to maintain a healthy vision. It is likely that you are able to get most of the vitamins and nutrient needs from a balanced diet without the need for health supplement. However, if you are going through a different phase in life or recovering or have certain diet restrictions or health conditions that reduces the efficacy of absorption of nutrients from food, or have reduced appetite in general, health supplements may be the used with the consultation with a nutritionist or dietitian. 

7) Eat fruits in season. Fruits in season are abundant, ripe and cheap. As the fruits ripened naturally (hopefully) in the climate, they would contain the nutrients and composition that are beneficial to us in that season. As seasons change, our body needs also change accordingly. Just like we change how we dress in different seasons, our diet needs to be modified accordingly as well. 

8) Colours and flavours. In oriental therapy, different flavours (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent) have different energetic effects on the body and organs. In ayuveda, there is also astringent. The body requires each flavour in moderate amount daily. The key is to balance the flavours according to the season and inner biological needs. When the weather is cold and windy, I would balance the cooling effect of fruits with drinking of warm ginger water thereafter in small amount or I may cook the fruits in milk and ginger. 

Besides having different nutrients, the different colours of fruits and vegetables contain different vibrations and energies. Brighter and lighter colours have an uplifting energetic effect while darker and duller colours have a grounding effect. 

Vary the flavours and colours throughout the day according to your body needs.

9) Know your food allergens and intolerance

What is healthy for one (or many) may not agree with your digestive tract. This can range from mild symptoms of intolerance to very serious consequences in food allergies. Take extra care here. 

I find energy testing of food by Donna Eden particularly helpful for me especially when I begin to eat more consciously. If you are doing by yourself, which I do it all the times, you can do energy test with your body sway or strength changes in your hands or fingers. Will share separately on this topic. 

10) Stay hydrated. Water is very important for all our bodily functions so drink up. It also helps to clear the waste and move toxins out of the body. It helps with my digestion when I don't drink too much water before a meal and at least an hour after a meal. It is very important to take water throughout the day to stay hydrated instead of gulping down a lot amount right before a workout. If you wake up often to urinate at night, try not to drink too much water 2 hours before your bedtime. 
Practising pelvic floor exercises also helps to strengthen the power to hold pee, i.e. reduce frequent night pee. The muscles of pelvic floor is considered strong if it can hold pee and empty the bladder fully during urination.